Have you ever been in that situation where you are expected to know the answer to some question or problem, but you don't? All eyes are on you as you search the recesses of your mind for something...anything to get you out of "the pinch." Your palms start to sweat, your heart rate picks up a little, your stomach begins to churn, and you're tempted to fake a phone call or claim some sort of sudden illness in order to flee the uncomfortable predicament in which you've found yourself. What can you do to save face, maintain your perceived expertise, and manage your future reputation? In that moment, you find yourself in the direst of circumstances. Is there a solution?
Yes! And it's rather straightforward and simple: Just say, "I don't know." These three monosyllabic, everyday words can together become one of the most awesome and powerful weapons in your response arsenal. And the reasons are--in part--three-fold. First, these words diffuse the situation immediately. When you say, "I don't know," all of your physiological and emotional reactions subside. The sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, and stomach ailments go away. A sudden peace comes over you as you replace deceit for truth and reputation management for integrity. Secondly, they present an opportunity to learn. When we fake an answer, flee an uncomfortable situation, or otherwise sidestep a challenge, we miss the chance to discover something new...we choose comfort and stasis over progress and growth. Finally, these simple words demonstrate and foster a heart of humility. And humility is the truest symptom of a mature life! Those who value humility accept who they were created by God to be, know their limitations, and have the wisdom to recognize that lack of knowledge is not weakness but merely a temporary condition that can be easily rectified with a dose of teachableness.
But the greatest power behind "I don't know" lies in God's promise. Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:6-7, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (NIV). We don't have to manage other people's perceptions of us, pretend that we know everything, or bolster some caricature of ourselves. God will lift us up when the time is right, and he will take care of us. It doesn't matter if we lose a little face now and then or show our inherent imperfections from time to time. God remains in control, and he will manage things from his perfect and righteous position as providential Lord of creation.
So, the next time you find yourself in that situation...you know, the one where you're tempted to fight or flee because of some confounding question or problem--just utter those simple yet powerful words: "I don't know." See what happens! I can guarantee you the world won't come crashing down. Most likely, you'll experience or lay the groundwork for experiencing the many benefits of integrity, teachableness, humility, and reliance upon God. In other words, you'll trade weakness for power!